China says it’s ready if US ‘stirs up any conflict’ in South China Sea

China says it’s ready if US ‘stirs up any conflict’ in South China Sea, by Seema Mody and Ted Kemp.

Speaking to a small group of reporters in Beijing on Thursday, a high-ranking Chinese official made his warning clear: The United States should not provoke China in the South China Sea without expecting retaliation.

“The Chinese people do not want to have war, so we will be opposed to [the] U.S. if it stirs up any conflict,” said Liu Zhenmin, vice minister of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “Of course, if the Korean War or Vietnam War are replayed, then we will have to defend ourselves.”

The so-called “nine-dash line” that China has drawn over most of the South China Sea — a gargantuan territorial claim [of 1.4 million square miles] that stretches about 1,200 miles from its shores — would give Beijing control over a zone that’s estimated to handle about half of global merchant shipping, a third of the planet’s oil shipping, two-thirds of global liquid natural gas shipments, and more than a 10th of Earth’s fish catch. The Obama administration, backed by several Asian governments and entities such as the Brookings Institution, argues that such massive ocean claims at great distance from land are “inconsistent with international law.”

China’s claim is backed by force but has no legal basis.

China is party to the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, and that framework provides “no legal basis” for China to claim its “nine-dash” area, said Alessio Patalano, senior lecturer in Naval History and East Asian Security at King’s College London.

But beyond that, Patalano said, China’s actions have no historical precedent.

“There is not a precedent of this kind, and this is for two reasons,” Patalano told CNBC. “First until recently, technology didn’t allow nation states to project power over the oceans as it is possible today. Second, today’s degree of interdependence has no precedent in history, therefore issues over the ability of shipping to move through this basin has potential impact on the international system in a way that was not possible previously.”

Aspects of this conflict covered previously here, here, and here.